By Rusiripala Tennakoon –
Today is the 74th anniversary of our attainment of Independence. We are a recognized independent and free nation among many others in the World. On 4 February 1948, Ceylon was granted independence as the Dominion of Ceylon. In simpler words, dominions were autonomous communities within the British Empire which were “equal in status” but had an “allegiance to the Crown”.
Dominion status within the British Commonwealth was retained for the next 24 years until 22 May 1972 when it became a republic and was renamed the Republic of Sri Lanka. It was only in 1972 that the country was able to break free from the monarchy and transform into a sovereign democratic republic after its constitution came into effect. But we still recognize 4th February 1948 as the day of our becoming an independent nation. It however, paved the way for us to become a ‘free nation’ with our own constitution in 1972.
This is the history of our story of ‘Independence’ and “a Free Nation’. In keeping with our traditions, the Independent day celebrations were held today, too, with the “pomp and glory” fitting for such a National level Ceremony. Many can have different views about it. But a nation has a right to rejoice recalling events that change the course of history. Jawaharlal Nehru’s famous speech, ‘tryst with destiny’ delivered on the midnight of August 15, the day preceding their independence is remembered as the moment a new nation was born thereon. In reality though, that was the moment when India and Pakistan acquired dominion status.
The prophetic words of Late S.W.R.D., stated immediately after achieving Independent Status is very relevant. Quote, “the net effect of all this is that freedom to many may mean nothing more than a mere theoretical concept, some-thing existing only on paper, without a realization that new status, if it is to have any real meaning for the people, must involve a new outlook followed by new action.”
What is important for us is to ponder over the issues to evaluate whether we have successfully used the powers and privileges of becoming a free nation all these years, to realize and enjoy the fruits of the new status meaningfully. I thought of dealing with the topic of this article in this context and to address the circumstances we face in the world today. We are passing through a period of rapid and unprecedented changes in all spheres political, social and economic with no possibility for any- one to predict or plan the shape of things that will emerge. This situation leaves all countries, compelling them to look at possible solutions both internally as well as externally.
It is usual for the President of the Country as our elected leader to deliver a speech on the national day. But due to the prevailing situation in the country it is not an easy task to cover many fields of concern and expectations of the masses under such predicaments. While it is necessary to defy despair, and at the same time articulate the hopes and dreams of millions affected one has to be mindful of the credibility factors. It is also difficult to deviate from the existing visible hardships experienced by the people and not to frustrate the ripples of hope the listening audience will have.
We have listened to many independent day speeches. Many have chosen to lambaste the past rulers and the political opponents. We are pleased to note that the incumbent President carefully chose to deviate from such pitfalls in his Speech and was able to impart the impressions of a patriotic leader spelling out words of love and devotion building hope, and courage with a truthful admission of a need to address the critical situation we are all facing.
I do not wish to praise the President but we all have a duty to consider the aspects he has high lighted in his speech. This is important when many are inclined and lined up to cast remarks and criticisms about a prevailing desolate and forlorn state of affairs.
The theme of his speech was , “අපි අප ගැන විශ්වාසය තබා ගනිමු” which translated to English will read as “shall we keep confidence in ourselves”
We recall that he stated this after tracing through our historical achievements. Our irrigation systems, our agricultural successes, our engineering ingenuities that stands to our credit in our history. He was trying to impart an idea and a vision into the destitute minds of many who are losing confidence. On the other-hand he was attempting to inculcate an idea about the untapped resourcefulness of our people.
When the whole world is facing the same dilemma, countries both big and small, there arises a need to focus inwards with a heavy emphasis, so that our dependency on external sources, which remain severely limited due to their own plights, could be squarely managed. In a highly practical sense he named certain important areas where this could be applied.
Promote And Assist Investment Opportunities
We are aware we have a Board of Investment created to cater to this need in existence for over several decades. It is ironical to see that the re-organization of the BOI is still being addressed. We have heard several times policy makers talking about setting up of a one-stop-shop to deal with the prospective investors. One basic factor that should be addressed by the BOI is to explore the possibilities and offer opportunities to the Investors to make full use and utilize our available resources which can be allocated to development activities under investment projects. The value additions that will increase the yield from our agricultural exports is lagging behind the levels that can be developed into. The idling landmass which is remaining as nobodies’ child is a virtual crime. If a foreign investor requires land for a project he will have to find one on his own, wait for until the obsolete formalities are fulfilled taking several years. Many times before, the BOI was sounded on the need to establish a Land bank with ready information for the investors to choose from without wasting time and facing untold obstacles. This is not a difficult task. The American MCC compact identified this resource before the BOI.
One day several years ago there was a meeting summoned by the BOI to discuss about problems faced by investors. One issue brought up was about the un-availability of lands. One participant challenged the group of officials heading that discussion that he will if given the authority, identify thousands of acres of unutilized lands owned by the state within a radius of 50 miles from Colombo. The officials were dumbfounded, bamboozled and dismayed.
One investor interested in the Agricultural field brought up the need for seed potatoes and seeds and seedlings. One of the govt. officials suggested we start a research unit for setting up of a Tissue Culture lab. Mr. Paskaralingam who chaired that meeting as the most senior Govt servant remarked that the solution he was looking for was for this generation and not for the next generation! This is the level and thinking of our officials associated with Investment promotions.
President can come up with many ideas but they will often go down the drain. The LRC which is the custodian of most of the lands is full of individuals who would delay the granting process of releasing even a land identified for a strategic project not for months but for years. We can produce evidence of large extents of valuable fertile developable land areas idling over many decades under their purview.
How can this country progress? Unless the Executive is a Dictator, Singapore Style, this system cannot be changed. Most people appointed to these places for decision-making are doing a job and not a service.
This is something the cabinet and the President have identified for some time now. But the outcome and forward motion is extremely slow. No one to bell the cat. A mafia in operation. Electricity is imported and exported between Nepal and India. Some one knowing something about Energy and also interested in country’s problems can take a look. The other important factor is No dollars are involved in these transactions. Perhaps our treasury can think of a formula?
We will keep talking till the cows come home. But the CEB engineers who are well looked after by the major diesel power producers will get their share at the end of the day. PUCSL is only a talking shop. SEA is filled with many who are too long there. Let there be light as some one said to remove the darkness. The President is correct. This is an important sector no doubt. But the caravan is slow.
In a long- term perspective Education is the most important area for a bright future for this country and also to introduce novel thinking and approaches to the decision making areas replacing the lethargic, slow and outdated characters in all spheres. President’s interest is highly commendable and the area is moving forward at a considerably fast pace compared to the other sectors. 1000 model schools with all facilities in all parts of the country, increase intake of students to universities, encouragement of private higher education institutions affiliated to established universities in the world, research and development programs in progress with ADB assistance, Plans to fund setting up of Bio-medical research cum/service hospitals with International assistance, review of educational curricula to match and suit industry and employable areas as well as preparatory for overseas employment are very much in motion. Some Projects are targeted to be completed during his term of office.
At a time when our scope for foreign aid and assistance is getting limited due to reasons beyond our control, the emphasis and priority the President has extended to inward development activities utilizing our own resources is a must and definitely a step towards our independent outlook.
Governments know what to do, but their know- how about getting re-elected after doing it is rather limited. In the absence of a little bit of totalitarianism (once as pronounced by late Mr. Felix Di Bandaranaike), to give effect to some of the drastic but important changes, at least a new generation ready, restless and keen for change and knowledgeable as to what the changes should be, is much needed. Their thought process should be catalyzed by an aggressive educational revolution. They will create the background for the direction of change which cannot be moved by the Parliamentary system due to the binding democratic bonds. We can afford to forget the Old retired service friends but cannot forget the youth who drew paintings on the walls and started cultivating the neglected lands some time back. The raw material for development and rapid change is found only there.